Today is National Siblings Day. That will mean something very different to you than it does to me.
Today I expect my Instagram and Facebook to be plastered with pictures of siblings, with captions about how they much they secretly love each other, even though they argue all the time. Today, like everyone else, I am doing a post about my brother. But it will be different to anything else you might have read.
I have never heard my brother talk. We have never argued or fought over the TV remote. We have never played hide and seek. That’s because my brother has a severe learning disability. He is also autistic and non-verbal, which means he cannot talk. And no, he doesn’t have a ‘special’ talent because he is autistic.
My brother has been to specialist residential schools since he was five years old. We have grown up apart and in different worlds. I have experienced, to a certain extent, life as if I were an only child. But I am not. I am my brother’s sister and am proud to be.
I often feel guilty that my brother is disabled and not me. I have felt guilty for having birthday parties (my mum has always thrown me the best parties – from Princess Jasmine themed to an amazing 18th), going on holiday and learning to drive, because my brother will never be able to experience these things. If I could, I would swap places with my brother in a heartbeat, but I’ve made him a promise that I will experience every opportunity, and make the best of it, on behalf of both of us.
I love my brother, just the way he is, more than anything in the world.
I will not, however, pretend that I ‘embrace’ his autism and disabilities, because it has been so limiting, challenging and life-changing for him. It has taken away his independence and chance of a ‘normal’ life.
Now 21, I am able to talk to people about my brother, his life and my family’s. But it hasn’t always been this way. Throughout my school life I avoided conversations about siblings and families, because I didn’t know how to explain to someone that my brother couldn’t talk, that we didn’t argue and that I spent my weekends watching Kipper the dog on repeat (I am proud to say that I know the Kipper theme tune and entirety of the lines off by heart!) So I didn’t talk to anyone, except for a select few friends, about my brother. Not because I was ashamed, but because I was fiercely protective.
I could go on for days about my experience of growing up with a disabled sibling. There aren’t enough words to explain how different and challenging my whole family’s life has been. But I was asked to write this blog following my post on Mencap’s new online community, FamilyHub, about being a sibling of someone with a severe learning disability. Finally, after years of searching for online forums for siblings or family members, I found FamilyHub. Before this I had never publicly shared our story, or met others who have had a similar experience to me.
Through the responses to my post on FamilyHub I have, for the first time ever, felt like there are people out there who get where I am coming from.
Whilst my brother, and others with learning disabilities, ultimately face the biggest lifelong challenges in life, being a sibling or family member of someone with a learning disability can be isolating. Through my posts with Mencap I am hoping that we can build up a community specifically for siblings of people with learning disabilities, run charity events and even meet-ups. Please help us #findsiblings by reading and sharing this post.
Finally, I know siblings can be annoying. Sometimes you might even think you hate them. But at least you can know them, talk, fight and then make up with them. So appreciate your siblings, no matter how annoying they are, because I would give anything to be able to do those things.
A bit about Beccy
I’m Beccy and I’m 21 years old. I am currently in my final year of University studying Speech and Language Therapy, a career choice inspired by my brother’s significant communication needs and learning disability. I am hoping to work with children with complex needs and learning disabilities. I want to use my own personal experiences to help others, as I truly understand the impact that communication needs and learning disabilities can have on an individual’s and their family’s life.
"My brother, John, is severely autistic and completely non-verbal. He is now 19 and I am nearly 21. He is my absolute world and the inspiration for everything that I do.."
If you have a brother or sister with a learning disability, read about the experiences of other siblings on FamilyHub - our online community for parents and families.